Crazy Las Vegas in June - the Perfect Backdrop for the World Series; POKER

The Birmingham Post (England), June 14, 2008 | Go to article overview

Crazy Las Vegas in June - the Perfect Backdrop for the World Series; POKER


Byline: By Peter Sharkey

This time four years ago, I was acclimatising to the desert heat as I visited Las Vegas for the final stages of the World Series of Poker (WSOP).

It was here that I first encountered the eventual world champion Greg Raymer, the game's internet qualifier who went on to win the tournament and scoop the EUR5 million (pounds 2.5 million) first prize.

Nevada in June is phenomenally hot and prone to craziness. Take away the slots, the tourists and the free booters and Vegas is still a cowboy town at heart, the city's glittering facade no more substantial than a Hollywood set. Yet in 2004, poker went big-time as literally thousands of ordinary folk descended on the desert for the WSOP.

When Raymer triumphed over a (then) record field of more than 2,500 competitors, poker's popularity hit me. While the packed crowd chanted his name, if you closed your eyes, you could be at a British football ground.

Consider this: in the first four years of the WSOP(1971-74) a total of just 45 players contested the world title, ie an average of fewer than 12 every year. Between 2000-2003 as the online poker boom started motoring, the numbers really jumped; in those four years, an average of 649 players sat down to compete for the ultimate accolade of world champion.

However, in the four years since (2004-07), the average number of competitors entering the main event has risen to an astonishing 5,877.

Overcoming a field of that magnitude requires enormous skill, concentration and lady luck's occasional assistance. Being American helps too: only four non-Americans have walked away from Vegas as world champions in the past 38 years, although three of those victories have occurred since 1999.

This year, the event's organisers have made allowances for up to 12,000 entrants to the main event, although current predictions are for an eventual field somewhere between 6,300 and 6,500. …

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